Accurate measures of education quality — primarily, years of schooling or literacy rates — are widely used to ascertain the contribution of human capital formation on long-run economic growth and development. This paper, using a census of 4500 missionary station residents in 1849 South Africa, documents, for the first time, literacy and numeracy rates of non-White citizens in nineteenth-century South Africa. The census allows for an investigation into the causes of literacy at missionary stations. We find that age, residency, the missionary society operating the stations and numeracy, as a proxy for parental education, matter for literacy performance. The results provide new insights into the comparative performance of missionary societies in South Africa and contribute to the debate about the role of missionary societies in the economic development of colonial settings.